Dirt Diggers Digest No. 78

Editor: Philip Mattera

July 2, 2007



-- 1. Tracking the climate impact of individual companies

-- 2. CIA "family jewels" disclosures include some corporate misdeeds

-- 3. Farm subsidy database now lists 1.5 million names

-- 4. Foreign lobbyist registration documents coming online

-- 5. Sunlight Foundation builds comprehensive database of federal documents

-- 6. Book Brief: FULL DISCLOSURE

-- 7. Easy searching of social networking sites

-- 8. More union concern about private equity

-- 9. Searching market research reports

-- 10. Research job openings [omitted from online archive]

1. Tracking the climate impact of individual companies


Much of the discussion of global warming is oriented to broad categories of human activity. Now there is a website called Climate Counts that puts the focus on the greenhouse gas emissions and related practices of more than 50 specific consumer companies. Climate Counts describes itself as "a nonprofit organization funded by Stonyfield Farm, Inc., the world's leading organic yogurt company and America's first manufacturer to offset 100 percent of its CO2 emissions from its facility energy use; and launched in collaboration with Clean Air-Cool Planet, a leading non-profit organization dedicated to finding and promoting solutions to global warming."

It is unusual for a company to sponsor a project that analyzes the environmental behavior of other companies. Climate Counts does so through a scoreboard that ranks 56 firms in terms of their commitment to fighting global warming. This is determined by considering 22 criteria in three main categories: whether the company has reported its own greenhouse gas emissions, whether it is taking steps to reduce those emissions and whether it supports public policies that would mandate climate change measures by business. The result is a 0 to 100 point scale.

The highest scores are given to Canon (77), Nike (73 ), Unilever (71) and IBM (70). Six companies, including Amazon.com and Burger King, are at the bottom of the list with a score of zero. Stonyfield itself scores a 63.

Climate Counts does not itself calculate the carbon footprint of companies. Thus it is similar to the Carbon Disclosure Project, which solicits reports on greenhouse gas emissions by the world's largest companies and makes those documents available on its website. The website of the Pew Center on Gobal Climate Change has descriptions of the reporting practices and climate initiatives of more than 40 companies. The guide most widely used by companies in measuring their own emissions is the Greenhouse Gas Protocol developed by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the World Resources Institute.

In the United States, OMB Watch reports that bills have recently been introduced in Congress that would create an official inventory of greenhouse gas sources, and the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee has inserted a provision in its bill that would require the Environmental Protection Agency to create such an inventory. The stand-alone bills are S.1387 introduced by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and H.R.2651 introduced by Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY). The latter would also require publicly traded companies to include data on greenouse gas emissions in their SEC filings.

For more on efforts to press companies to disclose the risks associated with global warming, see the website of the Investor Network on Climate Risk.


2. CIA "family jewels" disclosures include some corporate misdeeds


Fifteen years after the National Security Archive filed a FOIA request, the Central Intelligence Agency recently delivered some 700 pages of documents that detail illegal activities that were carried out by the agency between 1950 and 1970. Known within the CIA as the "family jewels," the documents are a redacted version of a report commissioned in 1973 by then Director of Central Intelligence James Schlesinger after the Watergate scandal.

Although the documents are mostly about the wrongdoings of the agency itself, they also shed light on corporate misdeeds such as the role of International Telephone and Telegraph in helping to destablize the Allende government in Chile. The full archive of the documents in a form that can be searched by keyword can be found on the website of the National Security Archive.


3. Farm subsidy database now lists 1.5 million names


The Environmental Working Group has released a new version of its widely cited database of farm subsidies that now lists large numbers of individual receipients who were previously obscured from public view behind layers of partnerships, joint ventures, limited liability companies, cooperatives and other business entities in which they participated. EWG compiled the expand list of recipients, which now totals about 1.5 million, from previously unpublished subsidy records from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Despite the large number of names, EWG points out that farm subsidies are highly concentrated in the hands of a small number of recipients, with the top 1 percent of beneficiaries accounting for around 17 percent of the payments. The Chicago Tribune notes that among the recipients are billionaires Paul Allen and Lee Bass. It remains to be seen how much impact this new information has on Congress, which is currently working on a new farm bill.


4. Foreign lobbyist registration documents coming online


The U.S. Department of Justice has begun posting scanned images of documents filed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Until now, the website contained only a listing of documents that could be obtained from the FARA public information office. The filings are made under requirements that originated in 1938 law aimed at Nazi propagandists and that today keeps track of lobbying and public relations efforts made on behalf of foreign governments.

Speaking of flacking for foreign governments, there continues to be controversy over Ken Silverstein's article on lobbying in the July issue of Harper's. Silverstein masqueraded as a businessman with interests in Turkmenistan when contacting Washington, DC lobbyist firms to see if they were interested in bolstering the image of the country (they were, of course). Oddly, some observers seem to think that Silverstein's deception (a traditional journalism trick) is more objectionable than the fact that the lobbying firms were willing to represent a repressive regime.


5. Sunlight Foundation builds comprehensive database of federal documents


The Sunlight Foundation has announced the first phase of a database called LOUIS (Library Of Unified Information Sources), which is intended to be a "comprehensive, completely indexed and cross-referenced depository of federal documents from the executive and legislative branches." LOUIS currently povides fully searchable access to seven sets of documents, including Congressional Reports, Congressional Record, Congressional Hearings, Federal Register, Presidential Documents, GAO Reports and Congressional Bills and Resolutions. The same keyword can be searched simultaneously in any of these archives. The site does not indicate how deep the archives in each category currently are, but there appears to be a substantial amount. A search for the word "Halliburton" over the seven areas yielded more than 500 hits (though none of them in Presidential Documents).




Full Disclosure: The Perils and Promise of Transparency (Cambridge University Press 2007) by Archon Fung, Mary Graham and David Weil addresses the question: "Can government legislate transparency policies that reduce risks to health, safety, and financial stability, or improve the performance of major institutions such as schools, hospitals and banks?" The authors--academics who have set up the Transparency Policy Project at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government--look at 15 U.S. disclosure systems ranging from the corporate financial disclosures mandated in the 1930s to the campaign finance disclosures enacted in the 1970s to the color-coded terrorist threat levels adopted in 2002 . They also look at three international transparency systems: financial reporting practices under the International Accounting Standards Board, labeling of genetically modified foods and surveillance of infectious diseases.

Emphasizing that not all disclosure programs achieve their desired aims, the authors argue that successful transparency systems must be "user-centered" (focused on the needs and interests of users as well as their ability to comprehend the data) and "sustainable" (increasing in use, accuracy and scope over time).


7. Easy searching of social networking sites


Social networking sites such as FaceBook and MySpace have become a major way for young people, in particular, to communicate with friends, but they are also a tool that can be used by researchers to track down individuals. A new site called yoName makes it possible to search more than a dozen sites at once. For a description of various social networking sites, see this compilation on Wikipedia.


8. More union concern about private equity


Labor unions around the world are showing increasing concern about the rise in private equity buyouts (despite signs the trend may be peaking). The International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Association recently released A Workers' Guide to Private Equity Buyouts. IUF General Secretary Ron Oswald writes in the preface that the guide was written "in the belief that, despite the enormous size and reach of private equity funds, they can be challenged and beaten back through trade union action."

This is the second major union report on buyouts since the overview of private equity sources was assembled in Digest No. 76. In the United States, the Service Employees International Union published Behind the Buyouts: Inside the World of Private Equity.


9. Searching market research reports


Market research reports are often wildly overpriced, but they are often the only way to get a good sense of the competitive situation in smaller industries. A new service called ReportLinker makes it possible to do keyword searching of the contents of more than 1 million such reports. The database covers both public domain reports, which can be downloaded for free, and proprietary ones, which can be purchased. The service is provided by a French company called Ubiquick.